Vertical flexibility in supply chains

Wallace J. Hopp, Seyed M.R. Iravani, Wendy Lu Xu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Jordan and Graves (Jordan, W. C., S. C. Graves. 1995. Principles on the benefits of manufacturing process flexibility. Management Sci. 41(4) 577-594) initiated a stream of research on supply chain flexibility, which was furthered by Graves and Tomlin (Graves, S. C., B. T. Tomlin. 2003. Process flexibility in supply chains. Management Sci. 49(7) 907-919), that examined various structures for achieving horizontal flexibility within a single level of a supply chain. In this paper, we extend the theory of supply chain flexibility by considering placement of vertical flexibility across multiple stages in a supply chain. Specifically, we consider two types of flexibility-logistics flexibility and process flexibility-and examine how demand, production, and supply variability at a single stage impacts the best stage in the supply chain for each type of flexibility. Under the assumptions that margins are the same regardless of flexibility location, capacity investment costs are the same within and across stages, and flexibility is limited to a single stage of logistics (process) flexibility accompanied with necessary process (logistics) flexibility, we show that both types of flexibility are most effective when positioned directly at the source of variability. However, although expected profit increases as logistics flexibility is positioned closer to the source of variability (i.e., downstream for demand variability and upstream for supply variability), locating process flexibility anywhere except at the stage with variability leads to the same decrease in expected profit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)495-502
Number of pages8
JournalManagement Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2010


  • Capacity investment
  • Flexibility
  • Supply chain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Management Science and Operations Research

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